Do Dogs Need Canine Friends?

If your pup is an “only dog” you might be feeling guilty that he doesn’t have any canine companions. After all, we humans thrive on friendships so shouldn’t our dogs be given the chance to make friends too? Plus, dogs are descended from wolves and you have likely heard they have a complex social structure with tight bonds between animals.

Well, turns out the answer to the canine friends question is not so simple.

Yes, our dogs are descended from wolves. But, when researchers from Washington State University at Pullman looked closer, they found that wolves’ social interactions couldn’t really be described as friendships, but were better characterized as “uneasy alliances.” There were only signs of true friendships among those wolves who were directly kin to one another.

We also have to remember that, fortunately, dogs are not wolves. Our domestication of dogs has resulted, in general, in most dogs being super friendly, even to animals that are not of their species.

Plus the bond between dogs and their humans is not really friendship either, but much more like a parent-child bond. Research from scientists at Eötvös Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, looked at the human-dog bond using what in human psychology is known as the “strange situation” test.

This test in humans consists of placing a child in an environment with which they are not familiar. If the child’s mother is not present, the child most often acts uncomfortable and anxious. But if mom is there, and the child has a loving, warm relationship with her, even in the strange situation, the child becomes relaxed and will play and explore.

The researchers tested dogs in the same way and got the same results which suggests that your dog is bonded to you in the same way a child is bonded with their mother or other parent. Plus the researchers point out that over thousands of years of breeding and socialization, dogs have developed an empathetic response to humans, so that the dog’s natural environment is not being in a pack of other dogs, but with their human family.

Do dogs enjoy being around other dogs? Many times the answer is yes. But it’s not necessary for a dog to have the company of other dogs to be completely satisfied and happy. So if you have an “only dog” and just don’t want another dog or just can’t get one, then don’t worry. Human companionship is sufficient!

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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